Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bill Barely

I always have mixed feelings about paddling in hurricane swells. There is the natural concern for my own safety, the anticipation of pitting myself against nature, the anxiety of pushing my skills to the edge, the fear that the conditions will be too extreme to play in or, worse, disappointingly calm. Since today was also a club paddle, there was the added concern that the conditions would be present but the group would be unwilling or unable to take advantage of them.
When we got to Fort Getty to launch, it looked like the conditions were going to disappoint. The water looked as it does on any normal day. The swells just didn't impress.
Fortunately, as we worked out way down the Jamestown coast towards the mouth of the Bay conditions grew steadily more intense. The swell got bigger and the water's power made itself felt. Paddling near the shore was an adrenaline rush.
Close to Beavertail getting near to the rocks was nigh impossible. With some deft timing, a paddler could dart in and do some quick playing and slip out before a swell shattered them against the rocks.
The waves sweeping around the head stood a good eight feet tall.
The lead group of kayaks started heading out to the channel marker just past Beavertail. I'm not sure there was a clear plan as to what we were going to do out there, but the siren song was upon us. Just bobbing in the swells at the mouth would have been exciting. I'm sure there could have been some excellent open water surfing as well.
Then a whistle blew and broke the spell. People were concerned that the group was spreading out and there was no clear plan. Some members of the group were uncomfortable with the idea of heading out the marker before making the crossing to Whale Rock.
The group decided making a beeline to Whale Rock was the best plan. While not as exciting as heading out into the really big swells, the crossing was plenty exciting. The swells, while not epic, were big. They were also not particularly steep. It made for a nice elevator ride.
At Whale Rock we watched the ruins take a nice pounding. It was not the worst pounding we'd ever seen, but it was pretty big. I managed to find the perfect spot to get crushed by a wave. (It was a little deja vu from last year's hurricane paddle.) I was taking pictures and someone yelled for me to lookout. Fortunately, I managed to get out of the way before a big wave broke on my head.
We paddled up the Bay a good distance off shore. The swells were big enough to make getting in close tricky. With some keen observation, it was possible. The swells were pretty far apart and very regular. There was time to get in, play around, and get back out between sets.
BH, who got in pretty close, said that the water near the rocks was more like a river than the ocean. He wanted to get in closer, but had a newbie shadowing him. He decided discretion was best. If he goofed up his timing, we'd need to rescue two boats instead of just one...
All in all it was a nice day on the water. We had a little excitement and got to see some big swells up close. It was not, however, an epic day.

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